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[REVIEW] Trese’s imperfect yet spellbinding, twisting adventure on folklore and citycore

I’m optimistic that Season 2 contains more redemptive flairs of quality storytelling and character developments to push Trese from its limitations. Regardless, this bewitching story that mingles our folklore and modernity will keep you mesmerized and hooked this perfect monsoon season. 

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Screengrab from Netflix

Gone were the days of preteens habitually going to local bookstores to purchase those Wattpad pocketbooks and flipping through Filipino comic books. 

Luckily, creators Budgette Tan and Kajo Baldismo are here to make our pandemic-troubled world a little lighter as they launch the Netflix debut of their comic-book series, Trese. When the sun goes down, Manila meets monstrous ghouls at night and it’s up to Alexandra Trese (Liza Soberano) and her enigmatic team to solve the conflict between humans and the supernatural. 

The black-and-white comic was first published in 2005 with over 13 cases and nine collected editions. The Netflix adaptation, however, has compressed these stories into six episodes during the first season. 

Who wouldn’t be in for a ride after seeing the resourcefulness and creativity the franchise’s marketing team has squeezed out? With its promotional materials like vandalized billboards and aswangs caught on CCTV, the franchise definitely has many immersive and unconventional thrills in store for us. 

Whether you’ve been anticipating this as a diehard fan or someone who’s just fairly new to Filipino folklore, here’s what you need to look forward to as you play Trese.  (Fair warning: Subtle spoilers in the latter part) 

Trigger warning: Mentions of violence and blood

On-point Metro Manila ambiance and breathtaking animation

Screengrab from Netflix

The art served as the franchise’s most memorable highlight. If you’re an avid psychological thriller and horror fan like me, I can reassure you that the gothic opening credits (and the series’ visuals in general) will leave you in absolute awe. The enchanting, haunting music is also alluring, tributing an Ifugao ethnic song titled Balluha’d Bayau.

Although it is meant to lean towards an anime genre, the facial expressions, lines, backgrounds, and smooth animation style are reminiscent of DC cartoons I used to watch when I was younger, so it is delightful to see a Filipino Catwoman-like protagonist kick ass. 

Whether they’re defeating Herculean creatures or simply stirring a cup of coffee, it’s a big kudos to the animators from BASE Entertainment, who come all the way from Indonesia, for paying keen effort, respect, and attention to incorporating intricate details that make our cultural elements feel more realistic and accurate. 

It’s also a testament that banality and realism can work if you extract the right creative angle. The film’s main premise is the juxtaposition of mythological fantasy creatures that work well with the narrative and modern aesthetic of Metro Manila’s nightlife. 

Legazpi and Guadalupe street are pavements we pass by from our day-to-day mundane routines, so it is riveting to see those sceneries stylized with horror folk. At noon, mise en scenes of our sari-sari stores, karinderias, municipalities, even pandesal shops come to life. 

Nevertheless, they are also brutally honest with the poverty-stricken reality in the Philippines, portraying informal settlers and the situation of marginalized, dirty areas. 

Depiction of relevant themes and issues 

Screengrab from Netflix

Minsan walang pinagkaiba ang halimaw sa tao.” 

Trese does not press an ideological holier-than-thou narrative down your throat. Rather, it has a nuance in telling us that maybe we are not so different from the monstrous creatures who are meant to be the villains. 

In the first episode, it seems too real when a populist, corrupt mayor is guilty of feeding innocent humans to aswangs. But when he turns to civilians, he is a kind, compassionate, politician who swears to solve and defeat the evil forces. 

But government corruption doesn’t fall far from the tree. Although Alexandra works hand-in-hand with the upright police, primarily Captain Guerrero, abusive police still remain in power. Guerrero halts two cops that strangle and mock an innocent man. This is simply the bare minimum that policemen must adhere to, rather than enforce senseless brutality with no due process. 

Regardless, Trese opens our eyes to another thing. More than the horrors that lie within the bloodsucking creatures, we must also watch out for monsters that paint the night with red, mercilessly targeting the vulnerable and powerless. I wonder when the real monsters will be caught in our own suburbs, and when their leader can show up. 

A dive into the perspectives of Philippine mythical creatures and the humans

Screengrab from Netflix

Not all mythical creatures are in Metro Manila to feast on flesh or plot world domination. A handful of them just try to adapt and live in the human realm through the most interesting and harmless ways. They’re like an enjoyable subtle crash course for Philippine folklore and creatures, especially if you’re still a newbie. 

One is nuno, an old dwarf that lives under the canals, consuming Choc-Nut as some sort of prize to help humans and give important information (Much like Ryuk from Death Note and his apples). There’s also a charming shape-shifting half-horse half-man tikbalang named Maliksi who drag races in the alleys of C5. 

Alexandra’s phone, by the way, breathes life into Santelmo, an emblematic fire that can be summoned. I also fell in love with the gorgeous elemental Habagat (Southwest Monsoon) creatures, Hannah and Ammie, and a whimsical diwata (fairy) residing in Rizal Park who can sense death. 

I’m not the most altruistic person towards kids, so how would I even handle a baby-turned monster, also known as tiyanak? In my case, I was unexpectedly left in utter shock and guilt when a mother mercilessly thrust her knife at the unhuman tot who was crying out for her. For once, we are supposed to feel sympathetic for a malformed, grotesque being that is not a human.

Of course, how can we forget Twitter’s favorite twins? I have been eagerly wishing that Crispin and Basilio’s backstory and their relationship with Alexandra would be fleshed out more what made their hatred turn into loyalty including the kind of emotional and empowering turn that made the trio form a close, tight bond in defeating crimes together. 

A likable protagonist with a fair share of strengths and weaknesses 

Screengrab from Netflix

An empowered female protagonist with a dash of Princess Mononoke and The Bride? I’ll have one, please!

In the series’ progression, flashbacks traced Alexandra’s memoirs with her mother, father, and how the ritualist-detective was chronicled to be the sixth child of the sixth child, mandirigma babaylan (warrior shaman), that would rid of the gore caused by the lore in the human world. 

But this wasn’t about her just brawling with the underworld as this prophecy has also made her struggle with grief. A normal childhood is nothing but a concept for Alexandra, as she was compelled to carry the emotional and colossal burden of leaving a legacy of peace between the humans and the supernatural. 

She also wasn’t just filled with pure reprisal, as she had a soft heart for the victims harmed by the underworld, consoling and helping them understand the inscrutable. 

Amidst the edge-of-your-seat fight scenes that are reminiscent of Kill Bill, it kind of felt unexciting to see our main characters easily eliminating a swarm of enemies that lurch towards them. It’s almost as if the predictability of her winning was always guessed right. 

Hopefully, there would be more scenes that tap into her humanity and relatability as a person such as her interests and motives before her well-built potential might fall into the bottomless pit of wasted characters turned Mary Sue (also known as an unrealistically perfect character). 

Some off-keys and loopholes that can be improved on

Screengrab from Netflix

There are hardly any defining oversights that drastically take effect on the series. However, there are a few lapses and omissions that I’d like to point out. 

As I was reading other reviews and engaging in discussions, the common ground watchers can agree on was the rushed, expository pacing of the villain’s plans and backstory on the last episode. It’s a rule of thumb to “show, don’t tell.” 

Unfortunately, Trese misses the mark in executing a more compelling way in stitching its universe’s magic system, rules, and backstory. It feels slightly compressed to listen and consume the information overload of a long-drawn-out monologue. 

Oddly, the villain’s sermon had to end in order for Alexandra and the twins to burst their momentous power-up recharge caused by a flashback. This overused cliché felt slightly underwhelming as the final showdown carried a huge amount of potential. 

Tracing back to the other characters, I wish their quirks, distinctiveness, and motives were fleshed out more. I first watched the Filipino dub and couldn’t help but feel detached from Alexandra’s unvarying tone. So I hopped on social media and discovered that other watchers also thought that the dissonance in some characterizations was felt due to the monotonous and unchanging narration of the English and Filipino dub. 

For celebrities who are rookies in the voice acting industry like Liza Soberano and Shay Mitchell, several fans felt dismayed, believing professional voice actors would have given more justice to the characters.

I’m optimistic that Season 2 contains more redemptive flairs of quality storytelling and character developments to push Trese from its limitations. Regardless, this bewitching story that mingles our folklore and modernity will keep you mesmerized and hooked this perfect monsoon season. 

Watch this thrilling and visual treat available on Netflix.

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A tale of orientalism: Western media’s obsession with the dark side of K-pop

The dark side of K-pop, or another internalized xenophobic headline that piques everyone’s interest, has a lot more to reveal about how Western media dehumanizes the K-pop industry into a vacuum of peculiarity.

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Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

Inscribed on popular Reddit forums and headlines are the words, ‘the dark side of K-pop,’ or ‘the real truth about K-pop.’ I thought my woke awakening started when I consumed these circle-jerk articles. But frankly, it only fed my echo chambers. 

Some locals, or those who are not into K-pop, like to resentfully rant that K-pop fans are fanatics. We’re collectively worshiping and spending money on weird Asian music, with humans that easily get replaced. Plenty of YouTubers and reporters craft a deep sociological analysis of how terrifying it must be to live that realitya reverie of perfectionand thank how we don’t have to experience that. 

And in truth, to give them enough credit, they’re not wrong in covering existent issues. There are reasons why it has a lot of articles. Disturbing sasaengs, strict diets, cultural appropriation, cancel culture, slave contracts, capitalist control, severe beauty standards, stigmatized mental health are among its complex problems. 

However, certain journalistic angles selectively take fractions and pieces of the story to misrepresent the whole industry. I, too, have been complicit in doing so. But there is a thin veil between the exploitation of idols and these angles by the media that should be discussed.  

The dark side of K-pop, or another internalized xenophobic headline that piques everyone’s interest, has a lot more to reveal about how Western media dehumanizes the K-pop industry into a vacuum of peculiarity.

Modern yellow peril and internalized racism 

Screengrabs from Chinese Professor, k-pop vs. orientalism, Google Images, Cloud Atlas

Trigger warning: Mentions of abuse and suicide

The K-pop industry is always “othered” as a bad place to be in as if other entertainment industries in the world are innocent of the same issues. Not only are its microaggressions rampant in the microcosm of South Korea, but it also applies to the vast majority of Asia and non-white regions. 

There is a term that may explain why Asia and the K-pop community are feminized as inferior and mystifying for the wrong reasons. 

Orientalism, as popularized by professor Edward Said in the 19th century, refers to how Europe was successful in depicting Asia and the Middle East into the so-called Orient, a believable and seizable entity to justify their superior powers over its exoticness and primitivity. In K-pop, when their groups, places, and cultures are pressed on a threshold for being different and weird, orientalism materializes. 

Let’s face it. We thought girl group aespa’s artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality concept were strange when they were first introduced to us. Netizens expressed their initial concerns about having perfect digital counterparts that were prone to sexualization, objectification while even possibly promoting body dysmorphia. 

But looking at their creative direction now, the group has been thriving musically in streams and trends while nothing precarious or life-threatening has taken place. In fact, their sensational and futuristic songs like ‘Next Level’ have marked a revolutionary start for fourth-generation K-pop. And to those fans who have been in K-pop for quite some time, SM’s unique concepts aren’t that shocking. 

Not just aespa’s digital counterparts, but a lot of K-pop’s computer-generated imagery (CGI) and production sets match the characters and themes in cyberspace movies like Blade Runner, Ex Machina, and Cloud Atlas. So it’s no wonder when outsiders let too much of these parallelisms form the wrong interpretations in covering stories about K-pop. 

“Driving through Seoul is kind of like driving through the future. It’s a bit sci-fi, it’s a bit Blade Runner, ” journalist Charlet Duboc likened in the VICE Investigates: K-pop Machine documentary. 

But YouTuber Elliot Sang (bby gang mag) critiqued Duboc’s journalistic approach as prejudicial seeing how it equated the K-pop industry to a future with synthetic humans in dystopian settings. To further the narrative, the episode was complemented with mysterious music and the journalist’s uneasy and tense attitude towards harmless and normal fans, to fantastically elevate the horrors of K-pop. But it’s not like they’re in a murder documentary. 

This exaggerated fright Western media tends to employ in modern settings is found in techno-orientalism, the reimagination of Asia in speculative fiction. One that aestheticizes an Asianized future with neon signs taken over by cyborgs in the outskirts of cities mirroring Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. With aespa’s cyber-core concept, it’s unavoidable to identify them with futuristic imageries. But the West tends to insinuate harmful subtexts and myths that K-pop and Asia have utopian visions and undertones the world should be fearful of. 

Notice how disaster or war films tend to villainize Asians as unfeeling masterminds, martial arts prowesses, nerds, hackers, sexualized, feminized machines with the infamous yellow filter. Popular clichés include: North Korea nuking the world, Middle Easterns or Russians as the grotesque war criminals, China’s communist agenda dominating other countries, whereas America would be the zero to hero in the White House. Whether they’re intentional or unintentional jabs by directors and writers, the tropes reinforce false ideas by fetishizing and reducing a race as sly and unfeeling humans. 

Akin to how Asians are characterized as robotic and cold, the same trick applies to screenshots and clips of an idol not being loud or expressive for a second, to make them appear more detached and automated. Context is either dramatized or twisted because they can be lively in other interviews and variety shows. Because news flash: moods are part of being human and they are human. But those are buried to fit a craftier narrative. 

Viewing and pitying idols as manufactured products simply forced to cog as machines are  prime examples of how the West gravitates towards binaries and othering: their “better” ideas of individualism and liberation against Asia’s “alienating” pressure on collectivism and organization. Although these ideas are arguably accurate to some extent, both have downsides, and they become misguided and hyperbolic tropes that don’t just play out within the parameters of the silver screens or books. 

Futurism would be sleek and spunky when done in Western cultures. Exhibit A: Elon Musk. But why is it creepy and “too much” when associated with Asians? Orientalism is not just an academic propositionit tells us what power imbalance and stereotypes do, and how they permeate our everyday lives. For example, these microaggressions that anesthetize society from seeing these idols as humans are: saying how they’re a copy of one another, giving them racist nicknames, making homophobic remarks, mocking lyrics, among the like. 

Orientalism proves the harm done by dominant groups in using preconceived notions to warp the views of many. One of the largest scandals that struck the K-pop industry was the 2019 Burning Sun sex scandal. Western articles often frame this angle as the event that tainted the innocent image of K-pop, as though the whole industry carries this sin. Even worse, common articles thrive on shock value, like oversimplifying the deaths of Goo Hara, Jonghyun, and Sulli. It’s incredibly off-putting and disrespectful. It is one thing to prove how a group of people’s words and actions bleed, but it is also another to pour scorn by sensationalizing their deaths as the main arguments to distort the whole K-pop community.  

Western validation is not the ruler  

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Bagging multiple awards in the States, collaborations with Western artists, and performing on American shows are all exciting. Idols and celebrities have rightfully earned the hype and love they’re receiving after years of hard work. In fact, I binge watch these ‘BTS and BLACKPINK being chaotic in the States for 3 minutes’ type of videos every time I have a rough day. So seeing them have a blast on stage, make award speeches, interact with new folks, and try new things is a thrill. 

There’s nothing wrong with cultural exchange and more opportunities but sometimes we can’t help but feel like a phase. 

“Cultural validation from the West and mega-profits fuels the engine of U.S imperialism and the K-pop industry,” argued Arianne Naranjo and Cezar Solomon in Next Level K-Pop: Heightened Capitalism from U.S Imperialism

Despite Parasite making history as the first Asian film to win an Oscar, four Oscars even, its popularity declined a month after its Oscar acceptance. “Seeing my culture being tossed in and out of style, sometimes I can’t help but think: To Western society, am I just a trend?” Kerrie Liang metaphorized the real parasites that occur when visitors come and go in the Western film industry. 

When viewers cringed at the exaggerated portrayal of the white VIPs in Squid Game, some rationalized that regardless of whether it was due to bad script or delivery, it was ironically successful in turning the tables, to show that Asians saw Americans as boisterous. When American outlets portray K-pop as a scripted and cultish universe filled with exploited celebrities and outlets, they seemingly skip the part where their own entertainment industry isn’t really the American dream people deem it as. 

The West is not the sole measure for what makes an ethical and admirable industry. Hollywood and Western shows have a history of protecting multiple predators who committed sexual harassment and child abuse like artist Chris Brown, Dance Moms’ dance teacher Abby Lee Miller, and iCarly and Victorious’ producer Dan Schneider. American media and the paparazzi also have a horrible cycle of mistreating female celebrities and their identity once they break free from their branded image (e.g. Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Miley Cyrus). They also have normalized typecasting, whitewashing, inclusion and diversity problems, gender-based bias, among a long list of legal and unheard issues. 

There is a dark side to every industry, not just K-pop. My point is how society is easily influenced by the West’s arbitrary angles in hypocritically pinning the blame and cringe on the K-pop industry and non-Western cultures. What is there to look forward to in their English remakes if their views on our own culture and identity are still stereotypical and damaging? 

Continue to like K-pop, but hold those accountable 

Screengrabs from SBS and MBC and VICE Investigates – K-pop Machine

Under no circumstances are the K-pop industry’s issues okay, nor is it fine to distance ourselves from its flaws and the idols and workers that suffer from its misdeeds. Moreover, the entire Western media is not guilty of perpetuating harmful exogenous notions on K-pop. 

There are a lot of journalists who still have nuanced, credible, and unprejudiced ways of documenting and presenting issues. Duboc was still able to cover problems in the K-pop industry such as drug trafficking and the rocky road in becoming an idol. But both issues the K-pop industry’s exploitation and the xenophobic angles of Western media should be held accountable. 

Non-minorities should avoid inserting themselves as the main characters in examining the narrative to only confirm their own internalized biases and dangerously influence a susceptible audience. 

A lot of fans are learning and growing; initiating discourse and undoing the stigma about the K-pop community, even starting videos, pages, and threads and coordinating with credible experts, people behind the scenes, and academics. Idols also advocate, translating in the meanings and themes of their songs. 

BTS has enjoined the call for #StopAsianHate in 2021, sharing their experience with racial discrimination, and even encapsulating mental health and the sign of times in ‘Life Goes On’ to social critique and protest songs like ‘Go Go’ and ‘Not Today.’ Sunmi’s ‘Noir’ reveals the duplicity of social media and false validation, and CLC has a relevant message about consent in ‘No,’ with so much more songs. 

Aside from the artists, the agencies and companies are gradually learning how to do better in protecting the welfare of their artists, such as HYBE and JYP, by being more understanding and receptive towards idols and their health breaks. But unfortunately, these fade into the horizon, away from the dominant narrative because we’re too distracted by the same stories exaggerating nothing but the brute of fandoms and companies. 

We’re all here for music, films, and entertainment at the end of the day. K-pop, as well as non-American industries, shouldn’t be framed as bizarre or exotic. It’s like every other industry out there with its own culmination of stories, music, and art to share. 

One can still be a Swiftie while recognizing Taylor’s white feminism. One can still be a K-pop fan while calling out a company that mistreats their staff and groups. One can still be a K-pop fan and not be in denial when their bias makes a mistake. 

So continue to bring your photocards on lunch dates, pretend you’re on award shows at 2 a.m, analyze the KWANGYA lore, and belt those high notes while still having these important conversations on improvement and accountability.

Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro
Blogs Editor, Blogs Writer | + posts

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Let people enjoy things: In defense of Pinoy hypebeast youngsters

In defense of our Pinoy hypebeast youngsters, they’re merely a bunch of friends trying to make it in this dog-eat-dog world. Because at the end of the day, there is a socio-economic context that most of us are unable to see.

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Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

Let’s be real here. Squammy, pa-cool, jeje — these are the usual first impressions someone would blatantly say against a group of rowdy teenagers hanging out in public spaces such as parks or malls. Since they flock in large numbers, one may find them intimidating. Although they gather in different groups, one common denominator between these cliques of the same feather is their fashion style.

This is where Pinoy hypebeast culture comes into play. 

To call someone a hypebeast, they must religiously own fashionable items like swagger clothes and stylish sneakers. They should also be updated with the latest trends such as new releases and limited edition products. Regardless, this is not the case for the ordinary Pinoy teenager I’ve mentioned from the beginning.

Far from the textbook definition of hypebeast, their outfits and footwear are viewed as imitations or knock-off versions of Supreme, Ray-Ban, and other luxurious names. As a result of this trend, hypebeast has become synonymous with jejemon. Of course, people who claim to be real hypebeasts hate this misnomer.

Over the years, I’ve heard countless insults and derogatory remarks to these young adolescents regarding their behavior. But no one’s a living saint. I, too, have my fair share of raised eyebrows and negative mental filters. 

Nevertheless, this kind of judgmental behavior doesn’t seem to exist toward well-off youth and social media influencers. As a matter of fact, one would notice that certain people have thousands of followers on Instagram because they look like models with their streetwear brands.

Double standards

Photo courtesy of KMJS/Twitter

On the contrary, the young ones who act similarly receive hatred and become figures of fun. There are numerous posts on social media where they are being ridiculed. One best example is whenever Simbang Gabi starts, netizens see them as funny memes. And as someone who uses social media daily, it’s no surprise that ‘haha’ would be the top reaction for every Facebook post of juveniles bonding together. The photos were harmless, but the comments were sour: “Tawas festival,” “A photo you can smell,” “Acm.” 

Damned if it’s fake, damned if it’s not. The elephant in the room is the false generalization where they are still perceived as lowly uneducated minors with poor manners. In comparison, double standards thrive because of colorism and the immediate dislike for their appearances.

If they both have the money and lighter skin, would they still receive the same treatment? I don’t think so. Society takes them as a nuisance. Real hypebeasts and sneakerheads alike are not afraid to tell them, “You can’t sit with us.” And these very same people idolize the likes of Julius Babao and Vhong Navarro when it comes to Pinoy hypebeast culture because they’re authentic.

In defense of our Pinoy hypebeast youngsters, they’re merely a bunch of friends trying to make it in this dog-eat-dog world. 

There’s a desire to be part of a family or a group where they all share the same sentiment: expressing oneself through fashion. Even if they’re challenged with money, they still try to catch up with the latest trends. Buying clothes and shoes in the tiangge and ukay-ukay — as long as they come cheap — is their go-to. That’s how creative the youth is nowadays.

Street fashion and its close ties with hip-hop

Photo courtesy of Edrex Clyde Sanchez/Facebook

For them, streetwear is a statement. It’s an identity that the youth cling to as they try to discover themselves. It’s not just something desultory and lukewarm that got in their minds because they have a fear of missing out (FOMO). And that’s the reason why every time you see them in the streets, they’re unapologetic about what they wear and what they do.

This may seem selfish, but it’s not their fault. Because at the end of the day, there is a socio-economic context that most of us are unable to see. Indeed, they may not be as educated and eloquent as the rich kids in Bonifacio Global City (BGC). And it’s also undeniable that they live in an environment in which no one who can actually purchase upscale outfits would like to reside in. But still, social prejudice exists towards them. 

People struggle with poverty, but are they not allowed to enjoy nice things?

If truth be told, that known prejudice has been a long timeless subject in hip-hop music — a genre these adolescents love and mutually identify with. Although it originated from the West, hip-hop found its roots in the struggles of the marginalized and the oppressed. Music gives power to the poor, and as trends change, so does street fashion. And that’s why Kalye music and hypebeast are inseparable — for better or for worse. 

Since they love the local hip-hop scene, there is no question that the genre itself couldn’t escape judgment. Stereotyped as “jeje” music, this OPM subgenre suffers from harsh comments and reactions — a parti pris that Pinoy rap is corny. However, people who barely listen to Pinoy hip hop are the same people that love Drake, Migos, and Travis Scott. 

The same goes with Pinoy hypebeasts vis-a-vis its American equivalent, wherein the latter is considered legitimate. Basically, looking down on these youngsters and their collective experience, to the extent of calling them “jejemon,” all boils down to the ever-existing discrimination against the poor. 

I lived my teenage life despising these kids and calling them offensive names. It was only later in life in which I learned that we are responsible to end the system that causes this hostility towards them. They should be welcome to sit at the same table as everyone else and have the chance to experience the same things as all of us do. 

Let people enjoy things. This doesn’t only apply to the young hypebeasts but also to other people who find affinity through fashion. So wear whatever you like and don’t mind what others say. Besides, we’re only young once.

Kurt Alec Mira
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‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ is an epic, gripping tale of power and responsibility

Coupled with fan service and brilliant storytelling, ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ takes our beloved web-slinger on his most emotional journey yet while teaching us the true meaning of responsibility.

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Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This article contains spoilers.

Spider-Man: No Way Home didn’t meet my expectations. It exceeded them. 

The mere nostalgia trip that I expected had turned out to be an ambitious cinematic masterpiece that finds the right balance of action, emotion, and nostalgia. Throughout the film’s highs and lows, we see protagonist Peter Parker (Tom Holland) discovering what being Spider-Man truly represents and finally coming to terms with his mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Coupled with fan service and brilliant storytelling, Spider-Man: No Way Home takes our beloved web-slinger on his most emotional journey yet while teaching us the true meaning of responsibility.

A tangled web of consequences

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up right after the harrowing cliffhanger of its predecessor, Spider-Man: Far From Home, where Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) exposed Peter’s identity to the world, and subsequently, framed him for murder. From paparazzis to criminal charges, Peter faces the pitfalls of his newly-found fame and ignominy.

But it’s not just Peter who suffers. His loved ones, including his girlfriend Michelle Jones (Zendaya), best pal Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), and his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), also face the same ramifications. While his loved ones simply accept the situation as it is, Peter is wracked with the guilt of putting their lives at risk. This is what leads him to enlist sorcerer Stephen Strange’s assistance to cast a spell that would erase the whole world’s memory of his identity. 

By taking the risk of casting a dangerous spell to free his loved ones from suffering, it’s clear that Peter still wants to do the right thing. Subsequently, Peter’s inner conflicts unfold. While he’s very inclined to do good things, he’s not always willing to pay the price, causing him to tamper with Strange’s spell. Unfortunately, it goes horribly wrong and only raises the stakes for Peter’s already messed up life.

Butchering a spell was a reckless thing to do, but it reminds us that behind the mask, he’s really just a kid. Like most teenagers, he’s naive and overly impulsive, which often leads him to make mistakes. However, his vulnerability to mistakes isn’t inherently a bad thing. It only goes to show that he still has a lot to learn, and he’s still evolving as a person. 

Even after defeating powerful opponents and taking on Avengers-level threats, he’s still navigating the perils and pressures of growing up. There are times when he becomes misguided, his judgment gets clouded, and he cracks under pressure. But in the long run, it’s not his mistakes that would define him. It’s how he learns from those mistakes and pushes himself to be better.

Morality in the face of adversity

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Ultimately, Peter’s recklessness cracks open the multiverse and brings over a menagerie of villains from different universes to their universe, including Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), and most ominously of all, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). 

Upon learning that the villains are doomed to die while fighting their universes’ versions of Spider-Man, Peter refuses to send them back to their deaths. Instead, he attempts to rehabilitate them from their antagonistic natures and give them a second chance to live better lives.

Peter yet again tries to do the right thing. He puts his life on the line to help dangerous villains because even in the presence of evil and danger, he doesn’t lose sight of his morals. But when he loses the person closest to him and his world begins to fall apart, those morals are put to the test.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Green Goblin tells Peter, moments before he brutally kills Aunt May in front of the young hero. 

Throughout Peter’s journey as a superhero, his Aunt May had always been his moral compass. From time to time, May imparts words of wisdom that influence Peter’s moral and ethical decisions. And in her last moments, she is the one who reminds Peter of his responsibility as a hero, delivering the classic Spider-Man motto, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But as impactful as those words are, Peter doesn’t immediately understand what they mean. 

Now without his moral compass, Peter’s morality takes a dangerous turn. He finds himself on the brink of madness, as rage and vengeance begin to overwhelm him. At this point, he no longer cares about rehabilitating the villains or saving other people; he just wants revenge. 

After constantly trying to do the right thing, we now see Peter wrestling with the question: “Should I continue doing the right thing, even when my world is already crumbling?”

When fan service serves the plot 

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

At Peter’s darkest hour comes the light of ultimate fan service, when previous Spider-Man actors, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, finally make their heavily-rumored and highly-anticipated return. They reprise their roles from their respective films, being brought into the fold as Peter’s older counterparts from alternate universes.  

Personally, I liked how Garfield and Maguire’s entrances were underplayed. Rather than coming in with glorious or heroic entrances, their entrances were rather comical. It works perfectly for the film, as it minimizes the impact of fan service on the storytelling and doesn’t overshadow the compelling, character-driven story that the film has already established.

But more importantly, Garfield and Maguire don’t just appear for the sake of nostalgia. Their characters serve a crucial narrative purpose in the story, further propelling Peter’s emotionally-charged character arc.

During this moment, Peter has already lost the willpower to carry on and keep his morals intact. He becomes hellbent on revenge, completely ignoring the wisdom his Aunt May imparted to him. Luckily, his two older counterparts arrive just in the nick of time to console him right before he makes a wrong choice, not wanting Peter to end up in the same path of darkness. 

Like him, both alternate Peters lost their loved ones and were once consumed by rage and vengeance, and it only brought out the worst in them. Through his older counterparts, Peter grasps what responsibility truly means: doing the right thing, even with the pain and torment that inevitably follow his journey.

Amid all the hooting and hollering in the theaters, this is what really makes Garfield and Maguire’s appearances in the film remarkable. Their characters add another layer to the word “responsibility.” By teaching Peter about it, they also show us that an integral part of coming to terms with responsibility is teaching others about it. It’s not enough that we’re able to capture the spirit of being responsible — we must also instill that spirit in other people.

For them, teaching Peter to be responsible is already one of the most responsible deeds they’ve ever done as Spider-Man. Part of their journey towards responsibility is making mistakes that will leave a deep-rooted burden on them. But by preventing someone else from making the same mistakes, they are able to ease that burden and show us the essence of being Spider-Man. 

With great power comes great responsibility

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Finally understanding the meaning of responsibility from his Aunt May and his older counterparts, the aftermath of the final battle sees Peter striving to do the right thing, as he always did—but this time, he willingly pays the price for it.

As Stephen Strange prepares to send the universe-displaced villains and Peter’s older counterparts back to their respective universes, Strange struggles to hold the floodgates of the multiverse, making infinite amounts of people from different universes enter their universe.

Peter realizes that those people are getting displaced into their universe because of him. He deduces that one way to fix the problem is to completely erase himself from everyone’s memory. 

It is during this heartbreaking moment that Peter proves his maturity as a hero and person. From a naive and childish teenager who is negligent of the consequences of his actions, he matures into a responsible hero who is determined to do whatever it takes to put the good of others before himself. He accepts losing everything in his life so that he can rectify the damage he had accrued and no longer put his loved ones in harm.

And now, he’s all alone, living only in a small apartment and having to start his life all over again. He can still resume his heroics as Spider-Man, but as Peter Parker, he is no more than a ghost to the world. 

In the end, he decides that the world can’t live without Spider-Man, but it can live without Peter Parker. As Peter Parker, he has only endangered the people around him. But as Spider-Man, he has saved the world countless times, and may still continue doing so.

In essence, this is the core of Spider-Man’s character. He has the capabilities and privileges to do almost anything he wants in his life. But at the end of the day, he chooses to be righteous and selfless, even when it may actively harm himself to do so.

It’s worth the hype

Spider-Man: No Way Home has everything in its formula to be heralded as one of the best superhero movies to date: stellar performances, grandiose cinematography, and a compelling story. But on top of all that, its real trump card is its profound understanding of Spider-Man’s character. The film really gets to the heart of who Spider-Man really is by immersing both avid and casual fans in emotional depth and what makes him human just like us.

As we watch his journey towards redefining himself as Spider-Man, we get a clearer perspective on responsibility and how it can also shape our lives. We may not be climbing walls or slinging webs, but we can use our own gifts to do what’s right and make a difference in other people’s lives. To quote Aunt May: with great power, there must also come great responsibility.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is now showing in theaters.

Andrei Miguel Hermosa
Blogs Writer | + posts

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